In the gym, I’m all about simplicity. If an exercise requires hundreds of hours of focused practice in order to perform it effectively, or a specialized piece of equipment that you’re unlikely to find outside of an elite training facility, I will find a different exercise. There is always an alternative approach to whatever it is you’re doing, always a different exercise that provides similar — if not the same — stimulus. It goes against the lessons imparted by Instagram trainers around the world, but you can develop power output without the Olympic lifts, just as you can strengthen the posterior chain without deadlifts.
Aside from practical concerns like time management and access to equipment, there is also this to consider: people are different. There is no One-Size-Fits-All approach when it comes to lifting, and any sensible trainer will avoid force-feeding exercises to their clients. Yes, there are more ways than one to skin a cat…or get wicked jacked. Here are but a few.
Standard Approach: Olympic lifts (snatch; clean & jerk)
Power is the ability to generate maximal force in minimal time. Think of Usain Bolt exploding from the starting blocks or a shot putter, uh, putting the shot (?). That is power. When it comes to training power output, most folks turn to the Olympic lifts, those tried, tested and true exercises that involve hoisting loaded barbells from the floor to high above one’s head in a single blast of effort. The Olympic lifts have a certain mystique, one that starts with the handle bestowed upon them. They’re not just any old exercise — THEY’RE OLYMPIC LIFTS, LIFTS DONE BY ACTUAL OLYMPIANS! They also look cool. And they work! So what’s not to love?
The problem with O-lifts is that they’re hard. One might even say that they require an elite (OLYMPIAN???) level of athleticism in order to perform them even remotely well. Not a week goes by that I don’t see a poor, misguided 20-something dude butcher an O-lift in a way that makes my own back ache. Unless you’re working under the eye of an experienced coach (and even that’s no guarantee…), chances are those snatches are doing more harm than good.
Simpler Approach: Medicine ball slams & throws
I love medicine balls. Not only do they harken back to the days when REAL MEN trained by gettin’ shittered on whiskey and boxing kangaroos, they speak directly to my minimalist nature. More importantly, they do an excellent job in developing power without a steep learning curve. The overhead medicine ball slam is a personal favourite. Wall throws are excellent, too, though not all gyms encourage their members to hurl heavy projectiles against their precious walls. Phhht.
Standard Approach: Deadlift
The posterior chain is a group of muscles — most significantly, the glutes, hamstrings and lower back — that control forward movement and assist with proper posture. A strong posterior chain is essential for athletes and regular folks alike and should be trained on the regular. The deadlift is the grand pooh-bah of posterior chain exercises and is also my favourite exercise, period. My body is well-suited for the mechanical demands of the lift (i.e., my limbs aren’t very long and I don’t have any mobility issues in my hips or hamstrings) and it requires just enough technique to be mentally stimulating without needing to bring textbooks to the gym.
Of course this doesn’t hold true for everyone. If someone is all legs or has tight hamstrings, they’re going to have a tough time getting into the proper starting position. In these cases, what is supposed to be a hip-dominant movement becomes a strange sort of squat or, worse, a dangerous spine-destroying anti-exercise. There are also grip strength issues that limit certain demographics from handling the weight necessary to make deadlifts effective.
Simpler Approach: Romanian deadlift
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is often overlooked in favour of it’s non-socialist cousin, which is a shame because, much like the ethos that rules its homeland, there are many positives to be gleaned from the RDL. Because it starts from a standing position, the technical demands are decreased. Also, RDLs can be performed with dumbbells and kettlebells, making them ideal for those who don’t have access to barbells. Another benefit: unlike traditional deadlifts, RDLs have an eccentric component — you have to lower the weight in a controlled manner rather than simply letting it fall. This means the targeted muscles spend more time under tension, which means more muscle growth. GAINZ!